Four more players sealed their Lakeside ‘Golden Tickets’ during a packed November, featuring 11 events across seven different countries, that brought the 2021 WDF season to a dramatic close. Andrew Sinclair recaps the action.
A dominant force on the Youth scene, 14-year-old Luke Littler had shown that he wasn’t far off winning his first senior title with deep runs in both the Welsh and British Opens during October. He delivered on that promise in Killarney, failing to drop more than two legs in any game as he won the Irish Open.
Long-time Northern Ireland international Barry Copeland provided Littler’s opposition in the final but he couldn’t hang with the Lancastrian’s prodigious scoring power, Littler running out a 6-2 victor. It was a hugely emotional moment for ‘The Nuke’, who dedicated his victory to the late Cath Cairns, the mother of fellow Youth standout Eleanor Cairns, who used to take Luke to competitions when his parents couldn’t.
With victory, Littler broke Rusty-Jake Rodriguez’s five-year record as the youngest-ever winner of a WDF event. Seeded eighth for the World Championships, there’s a good chance the teenager could go very well indeed.
Anastasia Dobroymslova was more or less assured of a place at the World Championships heading into Killarney but she sealed the deal by winning the Irish Open, her first title in almost two years.
‘From Russia with Love’ had been to three finals already in 2021 but had come out on the losing side on each occasion. This time, however, it was fourth time lucky.
After overcoming Anca Zijlstra in the semi-finals in a rematch of the Denmark Open title decider, Dobromyslova defeated Deta Hedman 5-4 in the final. Hedman, the WDF No. 1, struggled for rhythm in the opening few legs, allowing Dobromyslova to open out an early lead, before battling back to force a last-leg decider. Dobromyslova held her nerve to take that and will be the second seed at Lakeside – could a fourth World title be on the cards?
Deta Hedman overcame the disappointment of her Irish Open final defeat to win the Irish Classic the following day, on her 62nd birthday no less, with management stablemate Shaun McDonald winning his maiden title in the Men’s competition.
Having overcome home favourite Robyn Byrne in the semi-finals, Hedman took on Corinne Hammond, in search of her first title of 2021, in the final. Walking to the stage to the strains of ‘Happy Birthday’, Hedman had the demeanour of someone not prepared to lose and that translated to the oche as she ran out a 5-2 victor.
Shaun McDonald’s comeback to top-level darts has been one of 2021’s top stories and he put himself in a great position to qualify for the 2022 WDF World Championships by winning the Irish Classic.
‘The Punisher’ beat the likes of Neil Duff, Gareth Gray and Diogo Portela on the way to the final, where he met Northern Ireland’s hugely promising Josh Rock. In his first WDF tour weekend, Rock had already made one semi-final and one quarter-final and produced a staggering 111 average to defeat Nick Fullwell on the way to the Classic title decider.
A steady scorer, McDonald is the archetype of a player who ‘won’t go away’ in any match and that proved the case in the final as the Aberdeenshire man hung with Rock in the early stages before motoring through to win 5-3.
Luke Littler picked up his second title of the weekend in the Irish Classic Youth final, defeating Katie Sheldon 5-0. ‘The Nuke’ did miss out on the weekend Youth double though, going down 5-2 to Adam Dee in the Open final.
Despite admitting to not being at his best throughout the tournament, Jules van Dongen “did the right things at the right times” to win the Seacoast Open and claim his Lakeside ‘Golden Ticket’.
‘The Dutch Dragon’ had already made a splash in his debut year by winning two ranked events and he made it three thanks to big comebacks in the semis and the final.
4-1 down in the last four to Jason Brandon in a race to five, van Dongen went through the gears to take it 5-4, before winning five legs on the spin to come from 4-1 down and defeat Kevin Luke 6-4 in the final.
Paula Murphy will become the first American since Stacy Bromberg to compete in the Women’s World Championship after winning the Seacoast Open.
The Floridian veteran looked the class of the field throughout and followed up her 5-2 semi-final win over Cali West by winning six straight legs to defeat Tennessee’s Dani Warmack 6-2 in the final.
The weekend’s two Youth competitions were won by Kaden Anderson and Aaja Jalbert.
Belgium’s ‘Killer Bee’, John Desreumaux, may not be a particularly well-known name yet but he promises to cause a shock or two in January after sealing his Lakeside spot with victory in the Malta Open.
Having come through a last-leg decider with Antony Allen in the semi-finals, Desreumaux had far too much scoring power for John Scott in the final, finishing with four maximums and a 93 average in a 5-3 win.
Italian teenager Aurora Fochesato looked as though she was going to complete a fairytale tour debut by winning the Women’s Open, coming through three successive games that went the distance to reach the final. She took Paula Jacklin all the way in the final but couldn’t get over the line, Jacklin picking up her first title of the year with a 5-4 victory.
The final Australian event of the season, the Bronze-graded Challenger Classic, took place during November as part of Darts Queensland’s Festival of Darts.
Raymond Smith won the Men’s Classic, his second title of the year, to continue his remarkable resurgence. ‘The Guru’ recorded 90-plus averages in all bar one of his knockout games, including in the final where he posted a 94.85 in a 6-1 win over Jeremy Fagg.
Former Australian Youth international Vanessa James won her maiden senior ranking title in the Women’s Classic. Having proved the most consistent player throughout the competition, James averaged 66.18 in her 6-2 final win over Vivia Matson.
With Maureen Homer, the only woman who could catch Tori Kewish in the regional rankings, not playing in the Challenger Classic, Kewish’s second World Championship appearance was confirmed.
The American season drew to a close on November 20th with the Bronze-graded Oregon Open, where ‘The Scorpion’ David Fatum ended a three-year title drought.
At no point in the competition did Fatum look like losing and he sealed his fourth career title with a comfortable 6-1 final victory over Carlos Calderon. Calderon had provided the biggest shock of the tournament in the quarter-finals, whitewashing top seed Chris Lim 5-0.
The Women’s title was claimed by Lisa Tyler after she defeated Tanja Bencic 5-2 in the final.
On the same day as the Oregon Open, one of the highlights of the WDF season, the Czech Open, played out in Prague.
More than 300 men vied for the title that was eventually claimed by Belgium’s Andy Baetens, who’d won his maiden ranking title at this same event back in 2016. On this occasion, he sealed his third title of the year with a relatively routine 5-0 win over Scotland’s Mark Barilli.
Victory over Laura Turner sealed Deta Hedman her sixth title of 2021 in the Women’s Open. In a high-quality game that saw both women average over 90 for the majority, Turner spurned six match darts, allowing Hedman to come from 4-3 down to win 5-4.
Target’s Tomas Houdek retained his title in the Youth competition, defeating compatriot Jan Jires 4-1, while the Girls’ title was claimed by Hungary’s Tamara Kovacs.
Playing in her first events since ankle surgery, Maria O’Brien took her career title tally from four to six by doing the double at the Italian Grand Masters and Italian Open.
In Saturday’s Silver Grand Masters, ‘Obie’ had to come through three consecutive last-leg deciders to setup a final with Dutch thrower Priscilla Steenbergen. There was much more daylight between the players in that game, a brilliant 120 finish the highlight as O’Brien won 5-1.
It was a different story in Sunday’s Open, O’Brien looking fairly comfortable on her way to the final before being pushed all the way by another Dutch player, this time the former World Master Aileen de Graaf.
De Graaf battled back from 3-1 down to level things up at 3-3 but in the decider it was O’Brien who had better luck on the outer ring to emerge a 4-3 winner.
Richard Veenstra came very close to doing a double of his own in the Men’s competitions, reaching both finals in a weekend that’ll have only encouraged those who fancy him to do well at Lakeside in January.
‘Flyers’ claimed his 10th career title in the Grand Masters, following up his semi-final win over Jim Williams by defeating a resurgent James Hurrell 5-3 in the final.
After ending Martin Marti Santamaria’s hopes of sealing a Lakeside debut through the main ranking table, Veenstra took on fellow Dutchman Chris Landman in the final. In contrast to the Women’s Open final, which saw five breaks in seven legs, the men’s final had just the one, Landman taking out 88 en route to a 5-2 win.
The Russia played host to a double-header of their own on the last weekend of November as the North Europe season reached its conclusion.
Vladimir Akshulakov won his maiden ranking title in the Russian Open, firing in two maximums in a 6-4 final victory over Artem Klyuev.
Elena Shulgina, who is set to make her Lakeside debut in January, retained her title thanks to a 5-1 victory over talented teenager Ksenia Klochek.
Klochek, who recently signed with Target as part of their Elite1 programme, picked up her first senior title of 2021 the following day in her third final of the year, defeating Alisa Burykina to win the Saint Petersburg Open.
Aleksey Kadochnikov was an early casualty in the Russian Open but he made up for it by winning the Saint Petersburg Open, his second title of the year, and sealing a seeded place at Lakeside in the process. He saw off Belarus’ Andrei Pontus 6-2 in a high-quality final.
Although COVID restrictions have probably ruled her out of the inaugural WDF Girls’ World Championship, Ksenia Klochek continued her domination of the Youth scene in her native country by winning two Gold Youth competitions in November.
Her first title came courtesy of a 4-1 win over Yuliana Khityaeva in the final of the Young Stars of Darts and she followed that up by beating Anastasia Vasilyeva 4-0 in the Izhevsk Open final the next day.
Egor Mitryukov made it to both Boys’ finals but on both occasions he finished as runner-up, first losing 4-3 to Danis Gaisin in the Young Stars of Darts and then going down 3-0 against Nikita Kozlov in the Izhevsk Open.
Australia also played host to a Youth event in November, the Vasto Junior Masters in Balcatta, Perth. Both finals were played over the best of five legs and both went all the way, Stephen Hayden and Andrea Adajar emerging victorious against Mitchell Galby and Lilian Zdun respectively.
Players have one last chance to seal their places at the WDF World Championships at the qualifiers on December 5th.
Split across two venues, Lakeside and De Bonte Wever in Assen, two men and one woman will come through each qualifier and go into the draw for the Worlds on December 7th.
These venues will also host the opening rounds of the Boys and Girls World Championships, with the final two boys and final girl in each location advancing to the closing stages in January.